As mobile devices grow more powerful, functional, affordable and ubiquitous, there is little question that they will soon be standard issue at most forward-thinking companies with mobile workforces. Multiple surveys have found that IT executives rank enterprise mobility among their top initiatives for the next few years. These executives understand the potential of enterprise mobility to improve employee productivity, customer service, operational efficiency and revenue generation. They are aware that these are all good and necessary things for their organizations.
Ironically, however, many of them are apprehensive.
In many organizations, the people with Treo, iPAQ and BlackBerry devices are considered mavericks, especially if they are eager to move beyond email and voice communication. It all comes down to access to data, applications (CRM, SFA, ERP) and other mission-critical systems. And, regardless of the fact that many mobile workers purchased their own devices, they want and expect their employer to provide support for and guaranteed access to their disparate devices. Yet what these mobile workers embrace as productivity tools are often deemed by management as "rogue devices" that increase the vulnerability of the organization.
Of course, both executives and IT management know mobile computing is gaining momentum. They also are beginning to recognize that it's in their best interest to find a way to manage a rapidly expanding enterprise in which the network and corporate data are wherever their employees are. Their apprehension is rooted in not knowing exactly how to do that. They're not really trying to delay the inevitable, but they do have legitimate concerns about how they can manage and secure hundreds or thousands of devices with access to back-end systems as rigorously as the rest of their enterprise assets.
Broach the conversation with these managers and you can count on being bombarded with a long list of questions, such as:
These sorts of questions - particularly questions related to security - are delaying mobile deployments at approximately 60 percent of businesses, according to a recent survey conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit and commissioned by security vendor Symantec Corp. That means 60 percent of businesses are denying themselves the competitive advantages early adopters - including, no doubt, many of their competitors - have begun to realize.
That's clearly not a good thing. So what are these businesses to do?
We've Been Here Before
Fortunately, this isn't the first time that enterprises have had to solve problems like these.
The appearance and proliferation of PCs not all that many years ago was greeted with a mix of apprehension and denial. The initial response was to treat these new "gadgets" by segregating them and managing them as a side project, independent of the enterprise at large.
Although it took a while, most organizations finally came to understand that PCs had to be treated as part of the enterprise, subject to the same strategy and policies as other enterprise assets. The early days of the PC are worth remembering as we consider the substantial degree of angst accompanying the rapid proliferation of mobile devices in today's enterprises.
Mobile environments are complex, diverse and often beyond direct IT support and control. To succeed at the frontlines, organizations need technology that is both built from inception for these unique environments, as well as integrates with and leverages a company's existing IT infrastructure. With deployments common in the hundreds or even thousands of users, IT organizations are increasingly looking to find a vendor who can mobilize, secure and manage all of their frontline deployments, and has the ability to provide the backend integration, reliability and support expected of enterprise solutions.
It's important for organizations to have the flexibility to choose the right technologies for their business requirements, rather than being locked into a single device, platform or vendor approach.
Consider this example:
A financial services company wanted to deploy a fleet of handheld devices. After selecting a device and a mobile infrastructure solution, they realized that the device was not meeting the expectations of the mobile users. The decision was made to switch the device to a completely different mobile platform. And, future plans may actually involve changing the CRM system. Luckily, the company had chosen a mobile infrastructure partner that was flexible and provided support for a broad range of devices, connectivity and backend systems.
Point Solutions -- Proceed with Caution
Perhaps the most important lesson we've learned over the years is that the once universally touted approach to creating IT solutions with multiple point products from various vendors tends to create more headaches than solutions. This is as true in addressing mobile management and security issues as it was in extending IT policies to desktop PCs.
Consider an actual case in point:
A Global 2000 company wanted to deploy a fleet of handheld devices. After selecting the device, they began searching for e-mail, device management, software distribution, data management, security and other specific, point solutions to ensure a successful deployment. After selecting various point solutions from different vendors touted for specialized solutions, they began to install them on the devices, only to find that this was not, in fact, the best approach.
The rude awakening came in two parts.
First, before they could load all of the disparate solutions onto the devices, they simply ran out of room. Mobile devices may well be growing in terms of memory size, but they certainly don't have the storage capacity for multiple single solution products. The second unpleasant surprise was incompatibility. The solutions, once they were loaded on the devices, weren't compatible with each other because they weren't designed to work together. Instead of a sleek, smoothly functioning productivity tool, the result was a conflict-ridden device that required unrealistic amounts of collaboration between the different point solution vendors to resolve.
With hundreds of mobile point solution vendors in the marketplace and point solutions still the approach of choice of many organizations, this is, unfortunately, not an isolated example.
There are several important considerations for organizations as they develop their mobile strategy:
Mobility should be approached as an integral part of the overall IT strategy. Every new IT initiative should include a mobility component. Otherwise, you will find yourself in retrofitting mode once the initiative is already up and running.
Organizations should not treat their mobile devices differently than their desktops. The same infrastructure -- the same integrated framework used to manage the hundreds or thousands of desktops across the enterprise -- can be extended to achieve the same management control and functionality they already have for desktop machines. Again, treat mobile devices as part of the larger enterprise, not as a separate initiative with separate policies and solutions.
Choosing a leading mobile technology provider focused on the enterprise is essential. While many mobile vendors may have a niche, consumer or carrier focus, a mobile enterprise vendor will not only have the solutions, but also the experts, to help companies transition as a mobile strategy evolves. Before choosing a vendor, it's important to examine its ability to provide scalability, reliability, 24/7 support, global reach, education & training, and a range of developer and partner communities required for successful mobile enterprise deployments.
Forget about multiple point solutions and think about choosing a strategic mobile platform that is extensible right out of the box. Look for a proven enterprise vendor with experience in mobility that enables you to manage and secure your mobile assets in the same way you manage your other enterprise assets. Think in terms of an infrastructure that is extensible beyond your immediate needs, that provides systems management, software and inventory management, connection management (for a variety of connection types), data management, device management (for multiple device types) and, of course, multi-layer security. The goal is to create an infrastructure that can manage a wide variety of applications and can easily interoperate to meet your unique data requirements. Where solutions from various partners are required, ensure you work with those vendors and products that have a proven track record of working well together.
IT professionals increasingly realize that their focus needs to be on and that their interests are best served by a comprehensive, integrated framework. Rather than dedicating specific IT staff to manage mobile deployments, smart organizations are employing staff who understand mobility and how to connect mobile devices and users to the larger IT infrastructure via standard interfaces all while applying enterprise-wide strategies and policies.
The good news for those of us facing the current mobility challenges is that we already know how to handle them. We've seen this all before.